The Patheos Spirituality Channel is running a series on “defining moments, . . . . . moments where we move from our chosen path . . . . it is in those moments that our future is determined and our faith is tested.” I’m not sure that I quite fit into this narrative because my “Defining Pagan Moments” didn’t test my faith, they simply caused it to progress. I’ve mentioned before that I was once the President of my church youth group, and that I grew up a practicing and rather committed Methodist. Unlike a lot of other Pagans I didn’t have a bad experience with Christianity, I simply always found it lacking and incomplete.
There are some really cool “Pagan Conversion” stories out there, and I’m quite jealous of them. I wish that I had been initiated by my grandmother in eighth grade, or perhaps had dated the prettiest girl in high school who was secretly a Witch. Alas, my journey began in libraries and bookstores, and it was several years before I even met another Pagan, let alone did a ritual with or even kissed one.
One of my defining moments, rather embarrassingly, came at a mall in downtown St. Louis Missouri where I stumbled upon a kiosk outside of a New Age store. Possessing a rather serious weakness for books I began scanning the book section, my eyes eventually settling on D.J. Conway’s Celtic Magic. Celtic Magic is a rather horrible book by modern standards. It’s mostly bad history grafted onto an Eclectic Wiccan framework, but I didn’t know this at the time, all I knew was that Led Zeppelin was interested in Celtic Mythology, and this seemed like a good place to start. (In many ways Led Zeppelin was my gateway to Paganism, but that story has been told elsewhere.)
While Conway’s history was lacking, her prose was just fine, and I began to devour her little book upon returning to a friend’s house. I found myself in agreement with nearly every turn of phrase! Oh, and those Celts! What a lovely people full of magick and living side by side with elves! No wonder Stairway to Heaven turned out so great, it was influenced by this! Even as I burned through the pages a sense of dread began rising inside of me, because looming up ahead on page 43 was the chapter Celtic Wicca and the Lady.
The word Wicca scared me, mostly because I sort of knew what it was, and that it worked. I have a very forgiving father who encouraged me to read anything and everything. In elementary and junior high school that usually translated into books about the occult, the unexplained, ghosts, cryptids,* and UFO’s. (Are any of you out there familiar with author Daniel Cohen?) In the seventh grade I picked up a book on Witchcraft by Sybil Leek and read the words “O Triple Goddess” for the first time.
I’m pretty sure that I didn’t read all of Leek’s book that summer, but I do remember casting a spell from the back of it. When it came time to return some library books (Leek’s being one of them) one of them went missing, so I used a spell from Leek’s book to aid in the recovery of a lost object. The spell worked like a charm and I was suitably freaked out by it, but from that moment on I began to associate the terms Witchcraft and Wicca with a Goddess. I remember arguing with a counselor at my church when he said that “Witches worship the devil.” I replied with “no they don’t, they worship some sort of Triple Goddess thing.”
I was scared of what was on page 43 precisely because I knew it was real, and I wasn’t looking for a life changing moment at the time. When I finally got to the chapter on “Celtic Wicca” I found myself agreeing with much of it and feeling as if I’d been let it on a long-forgotten secret. As I settled down to sleep that night images of the Lady ran through my head . . . . it was subtle, but I had been changed just a little bit. I spent the next few days thinking about “The Old Religion” and the worship of the Great Goddess, unsure if the whole thing was just another curiosity or a new path I was meant to walk.
My Grandmother used to lead my brother and I in a prayer before bedtime. By the third grade it was a prayer I had memorized and I recited it every night before I went to sleep. It began with “Lord keep us safe this night,” and I had been reciting it that way for fifteen years or so. After what felt like weeks of wrestling but was probably just sixty hours or so, I added two words to my nighttime prayer. Those two little words, just three syllables would change me forever. After taking a deep breath I said out loud “Lord and Lady keep us safe this night . . .”
Lord and Lady keep us safe this night,
Secure from all our fears.
May angels guard us while we sleep,
till morning light appears.
At that moment, upon reciting those words, I felt a rush of energy enter me like nothing I had ever felt before. By saying Her name out loud, by uttering it in a prayer to Her, She came to me that night. It was like an ancient energy swooped down and cradled me inside of it. I was finally giving voice to Her, and She was acknowledging me as Her own. Now I knew not only that She was real, but that She loved me, and I’ve never looked back.
I’ve of course had other experiences, most notably with Pan, but there are other ones that come to mind as special. My initiation was life-changing, and I’ve participated in a few other rituals which have affected me too, but nothing really compares to that night. That was beginning, and I would have never had those other experiences without that defining moment.
*I’m telling you, Sasquatch is real, the Loch Ness Monster probably not.